Fri, Nov 29, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Highways and Byways: Roaming in Ruisui

An e-scooter trip around Hualien’s Ruisui Township brings visitors to Old Railway Bicycle Trail, Hutou Mountain and its many paths and plenty of hot springs, the iron-rich water visible everywhere

By Steven Crook  /  Contributing reporter

Hutou Mountain Trail in Hualien County features lots of steps but also plenty of shade.

Photo: Steven Crook

Hongye Creek (紅葉溪) was too high to cross on foot, let alone by e-scooter. I’d checked the weather forecast before setting out for this part of Hualien County. Standing by the stream, I realized I should have also looked up precipitation data for the past few days.

I’d hoped to get some way up Ruisui Forest Road (瑞穗林道), but clearly that wasn’t going to happen. This backcountry route, which I’d noticed during a session of wistful map-poring, climbs into the hills inland of the hot-springs resort of Hongye (紅葉).

I’m not especially experienced or adept at riding on rough roads, and I thought that, even if I couldn’t ride very far along Ruisui Forest Road, I could always hike part of it. According to the Forestry Bureau’s Web site, the road is 37km long and reaches the edge of Yuli Wildlife Refuge (玉里野生動物保護區).


After pushing the e-scooter I’d rented in Ruisui onto the muddy verge, I set off along the creek’s east bank. Ignoring the fitful drizzle, swallows zipped over the water like divebombers. By comparison, the egrets moved languorously.

I hadn’t walked more than 10 meters before I was stopped by the sight of one of the thickest patches of tadpoles I’ve ever seen. I’ve no idea how many there were, but where the water was finger-deep, in clusters bigger than a bento box, they huddled so tightly I couldn’t see the gravel below. A few meters up the river there was another tadpole population. Then another, and another.

A few minutes later, a different natural phenomenon grabbed my attention. The creekbed’s rocks and cobbles presented four distinct colors. Most were ash or dim gray, but among them were marble-like whites, rusty and tawny browns, as well as jade and sea greens. The final category intrigued me, and not just for aesthetic reasons. As the crow flies, Hongye Creek is almost 50km south of Baibao Creek (白鮑溪), which was once a nephrite source of global importance. Nephrite is one of the two types of jade.



At least 22 trains to/from Hualien City stop at Ruisui TRA Station (瑞穗火車站) each day. Among them, more than a dozen go to/from Taipei. Three businesses near the station rent out e-scooters and bicycles; expect to pay NT$500 per day for one of the former. Buses which stop in central Ruisui include the #1135, which connects the town with Yuli (玉里), the #1137 linking Guangfu (光復) with Fuli (富里) and the #1142 Guangfu-Yuli service.

When I got home I did some online research, and discovered that the green stones I’d been looking at weren’t nephrite but probably serpentinite. There are commercial serpentine-extraction sites near Hongye Creek, and some people scour the river for “bamboo-leaf stones” (竹葉石), chunks of greenish schist characterized by interlacing blue crystals.

Like many streams in Taiwan’s hills, Hongye Creek is divided by a cascade of concrete weirs, presumably built to reduce the amount of sediment being washed down from the mountains. I walked as far as the first of these, then backtracked to where I’d noticed a trail hacked through some very long grass.

The path, which was littered with big chunks of serpentinite, led me upstream for about a kilometer. If the creek belonged to birds and tadpoles, the adjacent scrub belonged to butterflies and other insects. Where the path ended, what I thought might be a fish ladder turned out to the remains of a breached weir. I decided to turn back, but not because tangled rebar was spoiling the view. It was now raining, and there was a lot of Ruisui Township (瑞穗鄉) I had yet to see.


I rode past Hongye Elementary School (紅葉國小), turned onto Siangbei Road (祥北路), and very soon came to one of the entrances of Hutou Mountain Trail (虎頭山步道). This network of three hiking routes (total length 1.98km) doesn’t go anywhere near the top of Hutou Mountain, the altitude of which is 1,747m. In fact, no part of it is more than 365m above sea level. That said, the paths are steep enough to give you a good workout.

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